Sociogenomics is the study of how biology and social behavior interact for the evolution of species. Genes are programmed and enforced through social regulation which influences how our brains function. (source) This fascinating research is validating how and why similar habits and behaviors exist and are perpetuated within members of groups. In fact, it is believed to be essential in how species survive! This means, without taking time to question the status quo, we may automatically subscribe to cultural norms due to our genetic imprinting.
I provided an example of this by exploring how different perceptions and cultural expectations shape women’s experience of menopause. Studies have validated that based on one’s culture, symptoms differ, and in some cases, are even absent!
The implications of sociogenomics is demonstrating that social pressure and establishing human connections is based on much more than “fitting in.” This understandably makes one hesitant to move away from cultural norms, including healthism, at the risk of losing perceived social status, membership, and rejection.
However, what happens when we stay in toxic relationships or groups for fear of rejection?
How can we find positive nurture relationships for optimizing wellness?
I will now discuss the science of how rejection literally can lead to physical detriment. Next, I will provide three resources to help you deal with fear of rejection and move into finding others who truly resonate with how you desire to be cared for.
The Biochemistry and Biology of Social Rejection
Social rejection has been studied in how it effects the body in a detrimental way. In simple terms and for those who want the science:
Rejection triggers stress…
Stress triggers inflammation…
Inflammation drives disease (source, source)
Below are specific examples of studies that demonstrate the connection between rejection and our genes and health.
1. One study showed that young people who were victims of targeted rejection showed increased gene expression in immune system regulation. This was correlated to social status, meaning more popularity meant that more genes were impacted. This was found to effect asthma symptoms.
The authors stated, “ Although, overall, adolescents who experienced targeted rejection showed increased expression of genes involved in immune system regulation, these associations were moderated by social status, with adolescents higher in subjective social status exhibiting the largest targeted rejection-related changes in gene expression (Murphy, Slavich, Rohleder, & Miller, 2013). These findings are consistent with studies of male non-human primates, where social instability evokes larger biological stress responses and more coronary artery disease in higher- versus lower-ranking animals (Manuck, Marsland, Kaplan, & Williams, 1995).”
The article continues to explain how the emotional and self-esteem consequences affected asthma symptom severity:
These exaggerated responses are thought to reflect the disproportionate cost of the encounter for high-status animals, in terms of access to resources and safety within the peer group. High-status adolescents who experience targeted rejection may incur similar costs; in addition, rejection may violate their sense of justice and undermine their self-esteem more so than for lower-status individuals (Ramos, Correia, & Alves, 2014). Drawing on this work, we hypothesized that targeted rejection’s association with asthma outcomes would be moderated by subjective social status. Specifically, we expected individuals who viewed themselves as being higher in social status to have the steepest declines in GR and ?2-AR, and the greatest increases in asthma symptom severity. (source)
Although there are limitations in the study results, specificity of the measurements, this research is compelling.
2. Another study further provided evidence that social pressure impacted immune activity. The authors also found changes in the brain as a result. These alterations lasted over the weeks of the experiment, especially for “sensitive-types.”
The authors stated: “that a social stressor involving social-evaluative threat and rejection elicits significant increases in inflammatory activity, as indexed by both sTNF?RII and IL-6 (see also refs. 17 and 18).” (source)
3. In another study, social-environmental stress was linked to biological changes that drive depression, specifically through inflammatory mediators. This resulted in changes in behavior, such as social withdrawal and fatigue. The authors felt this may serve to protect one from the perceived threat. However, as this perceived emotional stressor is prolonged, it can lead to chronic inflammation that gives rise to more chronic diseases. This cycle perpetuates the negative impact on the mind-body.
Those who prefer geek-speak, below is an excerpt from the article:
Major life stressors, especially those involving interpersonal stress and social rejection, are among the strongest proximal risk factors for depression. In this review, we propose a biologically plausible, multilevel theory that describes neural, physiologic, molecular, and genomic mechanisms that link experiences of social-environmental stress with internal biological processes that drive depression pathogenesis. Central to this social signal transduction theory of depression is the hypothesis that experiences of social threat and adversity up-regulate components of the immune system involved in inflammation. The key mediators of this response, called proinflammatory cytokines, can in turn elicit profound changes in behavior, which include the initiation of depressive symptoms such as sad mood, anhedonia, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, and social-behavioral withdrawal. This highly conserved biological response to adversity is critical for survival during times of actual physical threat or injury. However, this response can also be activated by modern-day social, symbolic, or imagined threats, leading to an increasingly proinflammatory phenotype that may be a key phenomenon driving depression pathogenesis and recurrence, as well as the overlap of depression with several somatic conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodegeneration. Insights from this theory may thus shed light on several important questions including how depression develops, why it frequently recurs, why it is strongly predicted by early life stress, and why it often co-occurs with symptoms of anxiety and with certain physical disease conditions. This work may also suggest new opportunities for preventing and treating depression by targeting inflammation.(source)
4. Finally, rejection hurts… as found in a neuroimaging study. In this mentioned trial, researchers examined the neural correlates of social exclusion and tested the hypothesis that the brain responds to social pain similarly to physical pain. For the experiment, participants had their brains scanned while playing a virtual ball-tossing game in which they were ultimately excluded. According to the abstract, similar areas in the brain were affected by exclusion as physical pain.
Here’s the jargon:
…the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was more active during exclusion than during inclusion and correlated positively with self-reported distress. Right ventral prefrontal cortex (RVPFC) was active during exclusion and correlated negatively with self-reported distress. ACC changes mediated the RVPFC-distress correlation, suggesting that RVPFC regulates the distress of social exclusion by disrupting ACC activity. (source)
Finding Our Connections and Three Resources for Dealing with Rejection
Knowing that exclusion and toxic relationships impact our health at the cellular and cognitive levels, how can we modify our genetic alterations for better wellness outcomes?
Below are three resources to help you navigate through the pain of rejection and into healthier connections.
1. Essential Oils for Processing Emotions, Self-Care, and Courage
I’ve shared previously how essential oils can help with overcoming emotional issues and “stuck” brain patterns. They can also assist in the modulation of some of the biochemistry gone array as a result.
This article summarizes some of the major concepts from my blogs on this subject that can be found on my database. It also includes examples of essential oils that will help you overcome the fear of exclusion and stepping into your own power.
2. Allowing Yourself to Be Vulnerable and Tools for Building Relationships
After you’ve calmed your brain and body, it may be time to use that feeling of courage to ask for what you need and establish healthy boundaries with your loved ones. I wrote a blog with resources in supporting healthy relationships and overcoming toxic relationships. You can access it here.
3. Support for Dealing with Grief and Trauma
Some people may feel alone and that no one understands. It’s important to remember that rejection is not a reflection of who you are. In this case, it may be helpful to find someone who can be supportive, such as a good counselor. He/she can offer ways to cope that help you to resolve the pain and adapt. This will lead to more positive emotions that benefit health outcomes.
My Final Musings
We can form communities and find sustaining relationships based on more than what we put on our plate. Saying no to gluten can be helpful for some, but is it a moral issue? I think it’s important to evaluate your relationships and consider that each one may bring something to the table, figuratively speaking. Maybe your friends who share your passion for yoga are different from your friends who love to veg out to a good book and discuss philosophy.
We may find that being accepted for that personal choice and not expecting others to follow suit is less stressful. We may also be able to maintain our tribes and kinships based on years of connectedness and togetherness. As evidence by the Blue Zones, this is a big factor in our longevity. I would argue more so than if we partake in breaking the bread!
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.